McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A civil rights group that sued the government to stop the housing of migrant children at a border hotel in South Texas prior to their expulsion from this hot spot for COVID-19 cases, says the Department of Homeland Security has agreed to end the practice.

Efrén Olivares

The nonprofit group Texas Civil Rights Project, which late Friday sued the federal government in a Washington, D.C., court, said the lawsuit has been settled, and that federal officials have agreed not to hold migrant children at the Hampton Inn & Suites Hotel in McAllen. Instead, the children will be sent to a facility sanctioned by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency put in charge of overseeing unaccompanied minor children in the United States.

On Tuesday, Efrén Olivares, racial and economic justice program director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, told Border Report that the agreement was reached Sunday.

“The government agreed to take all the children at that facility to an ORR shelter,” Olivares said Monday night in a Facebook live event. “Those facilities are in charge of finding a relative in the United States and with following their procedures in releasing children. … The government agreed to do that and that is all we are asking really: Do not expel them pursuant to this order, using the pandemic as an excuse because the government is really not following any healthcare procedures to safeguard the well being of these families.”

The lawsuit claimed that since March, under Title 42 Process, the Trump administration has been using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to expel unaccompanied minor migrant children and migrant families without any due process or legal proceedings as an “unprecedented new system for restricting immigration along the Canadian and Mexican borders in the name of public health.” The nonprofit organizations sued on behalf of dozens of “unnamed children” who were slated for expulsion and held at the hotel. Once a migrant is expelled from the United States, they have no right to U.S. immigration proceedings, hearings or appeals.

“The children should have been given shelter in children’s facilities until they could be released to family members or suitable sponsors in the United States, and are entitled to a full hearing, and appeals, to determine their right to humanitarian protection in the United States,” the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia read.

On Thursday, representatives from the organization and migrant advocates tried to get the names and phone numbers of migrants who were being held inside the hotel. Advocates stood on the sidewalk and held signs with phone numbers for them to call for free legal help. TCRP officials told Border Report that if they were to learn the name, dates of birth and countries of origin of the migrants then they could file a lawsuit. But some inside responded by holding signs up asking for help and indicating they have no phones to call.

The group was forced to the curb after being forcefully removed from the fourth floor where they tried to access the children, according to a video they posted on social media.

A diapered child is seen being held at a top-story room Thursday, July 23, 2020 at the Hampton Inn & Suites in McAllen, Texas. The nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) sued to have the children released to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)
TCRP staff and supporters hold signs to those in the hotel with the phone number for them to call for free legal aid. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement late Friday night told Border Report in a statement that there was no one left in ICE custody at that hotel. “ICE is not currently holding any individuals at that location. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to the health and safety of everyone in our custody,” the statement read.

The Associated Press last week reported that over 200 migrant children and families were being housed at three hotels along the Southwest border, including the McAllen hotel, as well as in El Paso and Phoenix.

“People were detained there secretly,” Olivares said. “There were no government vehicles, ICE vehicles, Border Patrol vehicles. This was not an official ICE detention center so it was being done secretly.”

ICE officials told Border Report that an ICE contractor, MVM Inc., “was on location” at the McAllen hotel “providing temporary housing for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” ICE said the incident with the migrant advocates “is currently under review.”

The City of McAllen issued the following statement following widespread news reports of the incident: “The City of McAllen has contacted the appropriate federal officials to be sure they are aware of this situation. The City of McAllen expects that the federal contractors running the operation will follow all federal guidelines and laws for the care and treatment of the children.”